Embarking on the journey of introducing solid foods to your little one is an exciting milestone in their development – and that’s where baby-led weaning comes into play. Baby-led weaning is more than just a trendy approach to starting solids; it’s a philosophy that empowers babies to take the reins of their own feeding journey. Instead of traditional spoon-feeding, this method encourages infants to explore a variety of foods at their own pace, fostering independence, fine motor skills, and a positive relationship with food from the very beginning.
In this introductory guide, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of baby-led weaning, offering insights, tips, and practical advice to help you and your baby navigate this enriching culinary adventure together. From understanding the principles to selecting first foods and navigating safety considerations, you’ll gain the confidence to getting started with baby led weaning alongside your little one.
Before we get started, are you looking to become more confident in starting solids with your little one? Be sure to check out our Back to Basics with Baby Led Weaning Bundle complete with meal plans and recipes from 6 months to one year!
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What is Baby Led Weaning?
If you’re new to starting solids with your little one, you may have heard the term baby led weaning, but what is it? Baby led weaning is designed to have your baby take the lead and decide the pace in which he/she is eating. This feeding technique offers a replacement to the parent-led spoon-feeding method. Baby led weaning foods offer graspable items for your baby to pick up and try by themselves to foster independence. Food can be offered in purees for your baby to use a spoon on their own, or in thick cuts like toast strips or thick avocado slices so your baby can grasp the food item on their own.
When to Begin Baby Led Weaning
The timing of starting baby-led weaning is crucial. Most experts recommend introducing solid foods around six months of age. It is important that the infant is developmentally able to self-feed. This means they have the motor skills to rake, scoop, hold, pinch, or grasp food and bring it to their mouth. They also need to be able to sit up and hold their head up on their own.
Here are 5 signs to look out for to know when your child is ready to start solids:
- 6 months of age
- Sits up on his or her own with little to no support
- Good head and neck control
- Picks up and brings objects to mouth easily
- Shows an interest in food
Preparing for Baby Led Weaning
Before diving into baby-led weaning, it’s important to have the right tools and mindset. Invest in a sturdy highchair that provides proper support and allows your baby to sit comfortably at the table with the family. Adapt your meals to accommodate your baby’s needs by preparing foods that are easy to grip and appropriate for self-feeding. When it comes to first foods, opt for soft and easily mashable options like ripe bananas, steamed sweet potatoes, or cooked carrots. Avoid potential allergens initially and introduce them one at a time later on.
Creating a positive mealtime environment is essential for the success of baby-led weaning. Choose a time when your baby is alert and not too hungry, as this can lead to frustration. Allow your baby to explore the food at their own pace; don’t rush or force them to eat. Expect messes – they are a natural part of the learning process. You can place a splat mat under the highchair to make cleanup easier. As your baby practices self-feeding, celebrate their efforts with smiles and encouragement.
To ensure safety during mealtime exploration, make sure your baby is comfortably seated in a highchair with proper support. To help set up your mealtime environment for success, check out my favorite baby-led weaning products!
Speaking of setting up your environment, ensuring your baby’s safety during baby-led weaning is a top priority. While finger foods are designed to minimize choking hazards, it’s important to be vigilant. Avoid offering foods that can easily break into small, hard pieces, such as nuts or popcorn. Always supervise your baby while they’re eating to respond quickly in case of any issues. Additionally, consider taking an infant CPR course to be well-prepared for emergencies.
Some additional resources include:
Foods to modify or avoid altogether
Below is a list of foods to modify or avoid altogether when getting started with solids. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list.
Foods to modify:
- Whole nuts: offer as ground nuts rolled on bananas, or thinly spread nut butter on toast
- Whole grapes, cherries, olives, and cherry tomatoes: cut into quarters
- Hard, raw vegetables: soften by cooking
- Hot dogs: cut into quarters
- Whole apples and hard pears: soften by cooking
- Dried fruit: soften by cooking, or incorporate into other foods, such as muffins
Foods to avoid:
- Honey, including honey in baked goods (until 1 year of age due to risk of botulism)
- Cow’s milk as a beverage (until 1 year of age due to inadequate iron, ok to use in baking)
- Whole large seeds
- Hard candies
- Gummy/sticky candies
- Hard chips (tortilla chips, potato chips)
- Added salt and sugars
- Fruit juice
Looking for more guidance on creating a safe environment for baby led weaning? Check out our Back to Basics with Baby Led Weaning Guide today!
Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning: Recommended First Foods
When selecting first foods for baby-led weaning, think about foods that are easy for your baby to hold and manipulate. Soft fruits like avocado slices or cooked apple wedges are great options to begin with. You can also offer cooked vegetables such as peas, broccoli florets, or carrot sticks. Cut these foods into finger-length strips or small, bite-sized portions that your baby can grasp easily. The goal is to provide a variety of textures and shapes to stimulate their senses.
Here are a few of our favorite first foods:
- Crushed or ground nuts and seeds
- Soft fruits and vegetables
- Beef, Chicken
- Beans, and more!
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning offers a host of benefits beyond just nutrition:
Improved Eating Patterns
A small study found that those who followed baby led weaning had healthier dietary intakes than those who were fed by the parent spoon-feeding technique. The spoon-feeding group was found to have more of a preference towards sweet foods, while the baby led group chose more grains. It is important that children are exposed to different foods in different ways as they are growing so their palate becomes more varied, and they are comfortable eating different types of foods and textures.
Healthier Body Weight
Childhood obesity is an increasing issue in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of childhood obesity in 2020 was 19.7%. Because of this some researchers have hypothesized that baby led weaning could help alleviate the issue. There are limited studies to support this finding of maintaining a healthier body weight, but there have been studies that resulted in a lower weight gain when baby led weaning was introduced in two randomized controlled trials. However, it is indecisive in its overall conclusion, and offers more research to be completed.
Greater Opportunity for Family Meals
The ideal baby led weaning environment emphasizes the importance of sitting at the dinner table with the family, while also eating similar foods. Family meal time is proven to show better family relationships, healthier meals, improved grades in school, and less stress and tension in the family.
Reduced Food Allergies
When offering a plate with different foods on it for your baby to try, it is harder to keep track of what food on that plate may or may not have sparked an allergic reaction. However, it is also a great way to ease in the top allergen foods to your child’s diet slowly in order to monitor any reaction. This could be done by offering full-fat yogurt, peanut powders to meals, fish/shellfish cooked into small bite sized fritters, and much more. Offering the top allergenic foods in slowly and not all at the same time makes it easier to see if there is any reaction, as well as reduce the chance of going into anaphylactic shock.
Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them:
While baby-led weaning offers numerous advantages, it’s not without its challenges. Here are two common challenges we often hear from parents:
Risk of Choking
Leaving your baby with something to put in their mouth on their own can be a scary thought because of the potential of choking. To help ease your mind, research shows that when done safely, baby led weaning does not cause more choking than traditional spoon-feeding.
It is important to pay attention to the foods you are serving to your baby in order to help prevent any choking from happening. Curious about how to create a safe eating environment while implementing baby led weaning? We go into this and more in our Back to the Basics with BLW: A Stress Free Guide.
Insufficient Nutrient Intake
Parents often worry about their baby’s nutritional intake, especially if they’re not consuming much food in the beginning. Remember that breast milk or formula remains their primary source of nutrition during the early stages of baby-led weaning. Offer a variety of foods and be patient as your baby learns to navigate this new culinary world.
Iron deficiency can be a concern to any new parent for their little one as a baby’s iron stores begin to diminish around 6 months of age. For those who are baby led weaning, monitoring what your baby likes and dislikes can help you offer him/her the iron-rich foods he/she likes to prevent any risk.
Foods rich in iron for baby:
- Tuna, mackerel, sardines
- Chicken and turkey
- Lentils, beans, tofu, edamame
- Iron fortified oats or baby cereal
Key Takeaways to Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning
As you embark on the exciting adventure of baby-led weaning, keep these key takeaways in your back pocket to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey:
- Remember, it’s all about letting your baby explore and engage with food at their own pace, fostering independence, fine motor skills, and a positive relationship with meals.
- Be patient – messes will happen, and that’s perfectly okay.
- Embrace the joy of witnessing your little one discover new flavors, textures, and the sheer delight of self-feeding.
- Stay attuned to your baby’s cues, offering a variety of nutritious options while keeping an eye out for any signs of allergies or sensitivities.
- And most importantly, relish in the precious moments shared around the dining table, as you nourish not just their growing bodies, but their curious hearts and adventurous spirits.
Cheers to a journey filled with yumminess, giggles, and memorable mealtime milestones!
Get started today!
Ready to get started with baby led weaning? Check out 6 of our Quick and Easy Baby Led Weaning Breakfasts from Registered Dietitians to start you baby led weaning journey today.
Are you looking to become even more confident with getting started with baby led weaning? Be sure to check out our Back to the Basics with Baby Led Weaning Bundle, your stress-free guide to baby led weaning.
Here is what’s inside:
- How to Know When Baby is Ready
- Gagging vs Choking
- 6 Steps to Success
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Baby Led Weaning
- Foods to Modify or Avoid
- 14 Starter Foods
- Baby’s First Foods Shopping List, and more!
- BONUS: Guide to Introducing Allergens
- BONUS: First Four Weeks Meal Plan
- BONUS: Sample Schedules for 6 – 12 months
- BONUS: 4 Go To Recipes for Baby Led Weaning + 1st Birthday Smash Cake
“Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning” is written by Kathryn Pare and reviewed/edited by Jamie Adams, MS RD LDN. Kathryn is a recent graduate of Montclair State University and holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition and Food Sciences. She is currently a dietetic intern at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where she will explore her passion for helping children grow up while pursuing a healthy lifestyle.”